“He who uproots stones hurts oneself with them; he who cuts trees endangers himself with them.”
As with many of the proverbs, there are two ways of looking at Solomon’s statement. The first and more literal approach to the text would be as the medieval Rabbi, Abraham ben Meir Ibn Ezra, who pointed out that with any worthwhile and necessary labor comes a degree of danger and one must take appropriate precautions. Thus, whether you are hewing stone to build a house or splitting wood for cooking or warmth, there is a risk and one must take care to preserve life and limb. As one who splits his own firewood for winter, I can testify to the dangers that can come with doing so and as one who spent more than a decade installing carpet as a trade, the scar tissue on my hands and legs can testify to the wisdom of the old Rabbi.
There is also a spiritual approach that can be taken to this text given the historical context. One of the common reasons, in the ancient times, for hewing stone or cutting trees was for the construction of idols to worship. Whether they were Asherah poles or depictions of Ba’al, idol manufacture was “big business” in the ancient world. And, if we look at the text in this way, we recognize the great spiritual danger that comes along with these practices — danger that is eternal. In this way, we are looking at this verse much the way as we did the previous verse and asking ourselves, “What is intended by this action?” If we are intending something for purposes that would dishonor God then we ought not be surprised when it backfires in our face and harm comes to our lives.